Yoga is a key part of traditional Ayurvedic medicine. It involves controlled breathing, meditation exercises, and physical body movements or postures.
The purpose of yoga is to achieve self-realization or enlightenment. Like other forms of exercise and meditation, yoga appears to have many potentially beneficial effects. It can affect blood pressure, blood sugar levels, stress levels, and anxiety, and can affect brain chemicals related to mood.
People commonly use yoga to improve general health, fitness, and quality of life. It is also used for stress, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, pain, and many other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support many of these other uses.
Don't confuse yoga with Ayurveda. Yoga is only one part of the Ayurvedic system of medicine.
Is It Effective?
Natural Medicines rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.
- Asthma. Yoga seems to slightly improve symptoms and quality of life in people with asthma. But it's not clear if specific yoga breathing exercises help.
- Back pain. Yoga seems to help relieve chronic low back pain.
- Breast cancer. Yoga seems to improve quality of life, pain, and stomach symptoms in people with breast cancer.
- Tiredness in people with cancer. Yoga seems to help reduce tiredness in people with cancer.
- Heart disease. Yoga, alone or used together with other lifestyle changes, seems to improve certain risk factors for heart disease.
- Depression. Yoga might help lessen depression symptoms in the short term. It seems to work best in people with mild or new onset depression. Yoga also seems to help when used together with conventional therapies.
- Diabetes. Yoga seems to somewhat improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes.
- High blood pressure. Yoga seems to somewhat reduce blood pressure in people with high blood pressure.
- Symptoms of menopause. Yoga seems to improve hot flashes, sleep, and other symptoms of menopause. It seems to be just as helpful as other types of exercise.
- Neck pain. Yoga seems to help reduce neck pain and disability from neck pain.
- Stress. Yoga seems to reduce stress and anxiety in people experiencing mild to moderate levels of stress. It seems to work about as well as relaxation therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Tuberculosis. Yoga seems to decrease symptoms, increase weight, and improve lung function in people with tuberculosis who are also taking anti-tuberculosis drugs.
- Multiple sclerosis (MS). Practicing yoga does not seem to improve quality of life or ability to move in people with multiple sclerosis. But it might help with fatigue.
There is interest in using yoga for a number of other purposes, but there isn't enough reliable information to say whether it might be helpful.
Is it Safe?
Yoga is likely safe for most people when used appropriately. Like other forms of exercise, yoga might cause soreness in some people. Some aggressive forms of yoga exercises might be unsafe, especially for beginners and when practiced without a licensed teacher. In rare cases, hot yoga might cause heat stroke.
Special Precautions & Warnings:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Yoga is possibly safe when used during pregnancy and breast-feeding. It doesn't seem to harm the baby when practiced during pregnancy. But some aggressive forms and poses might not be safe during pregnancy.
Children: Yoga is possibly safe when used appropriately by children under the supervision of a yoga teacher.
Abdominal surgery: Some aggressive breathing techniques, such as "Kapalabhati pranayama," might place too much pressure on the stomach area and harm people who have recently had abdominal surgery.
High blood pressure: Some aggressive breathing techniques, such as "Kapalabhati pranayama," might temporarily increase blood pressure and harm people with uncontrolled high blood pressure.
Eye lens implant: Sometimes a lens implant can move and cause rubbing and pain in the eye. Some positions in yoga might make this movement worse.
It is not known if this treatment interacts with any medicines. Before using this treatment, talk with your health professional if you take any medications.
There are no known interactions with herbs and supplements.
There are no known interactions with foods.
There are eight limbs of yoga: pranayama (breathing), asana (physical postures), yama (moral behavior), niyama (healthy habit), dharana (concentration), prathyahara (sensory withdrawal), dhyana (contemplation), and samadhi (higher consciousness). Yoga is often learned through classes or self-study.
There are many different styles of yoga, including Hatha, Ashtanga, Yin, Iyengar, and Kundalini. Most involve controlled breathing, meditation, and body posturing. Some forms are more physically demanding than others. There is no standardized certification for yoga teachers. Many schools and teachers register with the Yoga Alliance. Registered teachers typically indicate the level of training they've received with RYT 200 (200 hours) or RYT 500 (500 hours).
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